Now that you’ve had a chance to see (and for some of you, to play) an early look at Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, it’s time to hear a bit more from the team building the backbone behind every experience in Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer experience. Back during our multiplayer reveal we chatted with a few of these folks in the Halo Infinite Multiplayer Overview, but now seems like a fitting time to circle back and chat with them once more.
A Spartan with the VK78 Commando. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Hello there, Multiplayer Team! Who are you and what do you do here at 343 Industries?
Tom French, Multiplayer Associate Creative Director: Yo! I’m Tom French. I’m responsible for overseeing our Multiplayer Design Team and shepherding the Multiplayer vision of Halo Infinite.
Andrew Witts, Lead Multiplayer Designer: Hey, everyone! My name is Andrew Witts and I am the Lead Multiplayer Designer on Halo Infinite. My team and I work on things like Game Modes and systems such as Personal AI, the Mark System, Item Spawners, Medals, and more!
Cayle George, Lead Multiplayer Level Designer: My name is Cayle George and I wrangle all things maps for Multiplayer. Our talented Level Designers and I are responsible for creating all the exciting levels and combat arenas in Halo Infinite’s Multiplayer experience.
Alex Bean, Multiplayer Designer: Hey all, my name is Alex Bean. I’m a Multiplayer Designer working on features including Personal AI, Item Spawners, Death Cam/Spectate, Match Flow, the Mark System, and Medals. I also had a hand in designing a few maps.
Patrick Wren, Senior Multiplayer Designer: Hello everyone! My name is Patrick Wren and I am a Senior Multiplayer Designer working on the voice-over systems and partnering with Alex on Personal AI. I have also been designing in-map systems like the Pelican Delivery System.
David Ellis, Senior Multiplayer Designer: Hi everyone! I’m David Ellis, and I am a Senior Multiplayer Designer on Halo Infinite. I’m focused on helping delivery the Academy suite of features which includes our Tutorial, Weapon Drills and Training Mode.
Sara Stern, Multiplayer Bots Designer: I’m Sara Stern and I’m a Multiplayer Designer working on Halo Infinite. I’m primarily focused on developing the multiplayer Bots, although I’ve also worked on the Tutorial for the Academy.
When approaching Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, what were some of your most crucial design pillars?
Tom French: There were three Multiplayer wide pillars we established early in development that still hold really true to what we are today:
- The Player Spartan is Halo Canon – We want players to feel invested in their Spartans and part of that is making them be part of the bigger Halo universe. This led to the world wanting to feel more grounded to reduce “game-y-ness” without compromising gameplay.
- Extensibility at the Core – Modes, systems, and everything we built for Infinite to be modular and expandable over the lifespan of the game. This enables us to recontextualize parts of one game mode quickly to stand-up new mode prototypes for future Seasons. The long-term benefit is this also helps us extend this beyond our internal team and into our community development tools by exposing these various components through Forge and Custom Games settings to empower the community to build more content that feels more “real” alongside things built by our team at 343.
- Always Onboarding – Playing online is intimidating for many and difficult to master. It was important for us to develop an evergreen onramp of features into online play that we refer to the Academy. Starting with the Tutorial, players start their journey; joining the ranks as a Halo Spartan to learn the basic mechanics. Through additional features like Weapon Drills, Training Mode, and the Players vs. Bot playlist, players always have fun and “safe” ways to practice and explore Infinite before they’re ready to jump in boot-first into matchmaking.
Andrew Witts: The design pillars are different based on our two big experiences: Arena (4v4) and Big Team Battle (12v12). We created different pillars because we felt that they had design goals based on player expectations. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on the Arena, and we’ll save Big Team Battle for next time!
The design pillars for Arena are:
- Fair Starts – Players start the match as equals with balanced gameplay mechanics.
- The Lone Wolf Survives but the Pack Thrives – Players can achieve individually through skill expression, but the team with better coordination, communication, and reactivity will seize the most victories.
- Mastery = Mechanical Depth + Tactical Decision-making – A match with two teams of equal skill should be determined by the team’s tactical decision making as the game mode’s state is altered by player action.
- Game Mode Clarity – The modes in Halo Infinite’s Arena communicate their game states efficiently and urgently to bolster the tactical decision-making required for a player’s path to mastery over the Arena experience.
- Power is Earned and Impermanent – Scavenging pushes teams to contest the acquisition of items within the Halo sandbox. Any item that can be earned can also be taken away through combat resolution, positioning, and tactical actions.
An exterior view of Live Fire, a map for Halo Infinite. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
It’s been a few weeks since the Halo Infinite Tech Preview closed its proverbial doors. What’s been on your plate since that weekend of testing concluded?
Tom French: There hasn’t really been any time to stop, we’re always thinking about the next target ahead of us on the road to launching Infinite. The next big thing is getting our upcoming preview dialed in and buttoned up for players to dig into; grinding down all the little details we can to make sure the game delivers on the gameplay we’ve been working on all this time. It’s equal parts exciting, terrifying, and exhausting all at once!
Andrew Witts: I’ve mainly been going through all the data that we’ve received from all our feedback channels. The team has been spending a lot of time celebrating the positive ‘heartbeats’ on some features and coming up with solutions to some of the improvement areas we’ve identified based on player feedback.
Since then, the world has really had a chance to sink its teeth into every single frame of the gameplay they’ve come across. Did the community pick up on anything that surprised you?
Andrew Witts: I’m surprised at how fast the community found all the Halo references we put into the experience so far. (There’s more!) I also really enjoyed the players’ reactions to the more flavorful lines from the Personal AI that play when players do something particularly awesome.
Patrick Wren: I was really surprised by how evenly distributed each Personal AI was a favorite to someone. While I enjoy them all for different reasons, I had no idea how much each one would resonate, but it was great to see them all get love.
Alex Bean: I had a blast watching the community happen upon new Medals. We put a lot of work into a suite of Medals that would complement the game’s sandbox by telling the player, “Yes, you just did that!” It was great to see players discovering Medals that highlighted new mechanics (“Off the Rack”, “Deadly Catch”) as well as classic maneuvers (“Ninja”, “360”).
With the Spartan Academy and Bots being core features of Halo Infinite, how does that play into your multiplayer design philosophy? Does this open up any new opportunities?
David Ellis: From day one a core axiom we’ve used for the Academy was to “Give players a safe space to learn how to Halo.” After 20 years there’s a lot of institutional knowledge in the franchise that, for more experienced players, is second nature and doesn’t require a second thought. We’re focused on ensuring all the modes, tools, etc., we create will allow any players – regardless of experience – to hone their Halo skills. We were gratified to see the community response to the slice of Weapon Drills in the recent Tech Preview and can’t wait till players get the opportunity to explore more facets of the Academy in the future.
Sara Stern: We don’t see playing against Bots as a separate experience from multiplayer, but rather a tool we can use to allow more people to have fun playing the game. We spent a lot of time working on making the Bot experience feel like playing against players, so that the skills you practice against Bots are skills you can use in regular matchmaking. Sometimes you also just want a little more control over how your multiplayer experience goes: if you’re new and trying to get the basics down, or an experienced player who had a long day and doesn’t want to fully lean forward, Bots are there to give you more options for how you play multiplayer.
Tom French: Bots originally started with the desire to give players something “safe” to learn against and backfill players in matches. They’re a core component to our Academy feature suite to support an “evergreen” way to onboard players into our gameplay. The Academy and playing our game modes is really just the beginning of what will be possible with them. Their presence affords us new tools to explore new game modes and UGC experiences not possible in previous Halo games.
When creating a cross-platform experience like Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, what are some of the biggest design considerations/design challenges? Or, balance challenges?
Andrew Witts: Being cross-platform is super exciting for us in general. A particular challenge that we faced on the MP Team was around readability for new players in general. We looked at a lot of legacy designs and we tried to both modernize them as well as make them more accessible to new players without losing too much of their feel. An example of this is in our game mode design. For modes, we tried to add an additional level of clarity about what players should do off the rip with Personal AI “kick-off” lines that describe the mode in a concise manner. We’ve also added mode-specific scoreboards to many of our game modes in order to better explain game mode states to newcomers. This is the first time Halo has made completely unique scoreboards for modes and we’re excited to get some feedback on how they are functioning for our players when they see them in upcoming flights.
The MA40 Assault Rifle from Halo Infinite. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Expanding on the tried-and-true Halo experience seems like a mighty challenge to overcome. When looking at things like Personal AI, how do you add extra things into the margins without encroaching on the existing multiplayer formula?
Alex Bean: We looked for opportunities to take existing features and give them a big “Halo” coat of paint. An example of this is with Personal AI. Halo 5 had a voice in your head that talked about incoming Power Weapons and players have always captured zones in modes like Strongholds by standing in them. But this is Halo, and you’re a Spartan! Instead, a Personal AI is now delivering that information and “hacking” zones, giving players their own Master Chief/Cortana dynamic within multiplayer. Another example is our approach to the camera in MP. Now at match start or when you die, the camera transitions to and from your helmet instead of simply cutting, just as it does in the Halo Infinite campaign. And when you spectate a teammate driving a Warthog, you’ll see the camera mounted to the vehicle much like a cutscene from Halo: Reach.
We also wanted to take mechanics that were hidden knowledge or skills and surface them to the greater player base. Inspired by the dynamic weapon racks featured in the original Halo 2 teaser (and later in the game’s opening mission), all items (weapons, grenades, etc.) now spawn from physical objects in the world, marking the location of the spawn and informing players of their remaining respawn time. Instead of only being able to call out “3 enemies, Top Mid” via voice chat, players can now Mark those enemies and communicate the same information.
Patrick Wren: When looking to expand the Halo experience, I look at how things can really punctuate what is already there. Like Alex said, the Personal AI was the desire to get that buddy informational experience that you get with Cortana in the Campaign. When talking about what that would look like and where the current state of the story is, the “Dumb AI” made a lot of sense to be the way to mass produce with Spartans and not be influenced by Cortana. It was important for us to give players a variety to choose from to dial in their Halo experience.
Player feedback is a critical element of our process – and, during the Tech Preview we had a solid amount of it. What are some of the bigger items the Multiplayer Team is working on now as a result of that?
Andrew Witts: One area of focus for me lately has been on analyzing player sentiment around what we’ve been calling the “Combat Sensor” or as everyone has been calling it, “Radar”. We knew that the implementation we had for the Tech Preview was going to feel different, maybe even a little contentious, which is why we wanted to get feedback on it as soon as possible. We’ve heard all the feedback and we have a new iteration that will be in the next preview which will be more in-line with players’ expectations.
Alex Bean: There was a healthy mixture of known bugs going into the flight and new surprises – the Match Intro camera operator had many 1,000 lbs. Spartans tumble in their direction. We’re actively trying to polish up those Match Flow issues. And while our Medal animations weren’t playing correctly in the Tech Preview, sentiment on Medal visuals has been heard and our UI team is investigating addressing some of that feedback. Lastly, it was helpful to see what resonated most with our players to inform areas of growth as we look beyond launch.
Patrick Wren: The feedback on the VO systems was greatly appreciated. You try and tune as much as you can in development, but there is nothing like seeing it in the wild to get the clear picture.
The biggest pain point we saw were some lines and events repeating more than expected for both Spartans and Personal AI. Spartans in particular really wanted to make sure you looked “Over Yonder.” We identified the biggest pain points and added a buffer so that the same events aren’t commented on over and over.
For Personal AI, the biggest request we saw was the ability to preview their voices. Good news, we have already had that for a bit and is primed and ready to go the next time you all get your hands on the game.
David Ellis: For Weapons Drills we’ve already added and adjusted a few items which should improve the experience for everyone. We heard you loud and clear (cough… Bulldog 3) and tweaked target ranges in a few drills so they don’t tread outside the intended range for too long. We also saw some opportunities to improve readability with targets and introduce new target behaviors so be on the lookout for those in the future.
Sara Stern: We identified a number of Bot behaviors we wanted to improve coming out of the Technical Preview, but two areas of focus for us have been rebalancing our difficulty tuning and improving how well Bots prioritize contesting powerful weapons on map. The difference between Spartan and ODST Bots should feel like a significant increase in difficulty, which wasn’t a target we hit in the Technical Preview build. They also ran in a pack to all try and get the same weapon at once – we're exploring solutions for getting them to spread out and search for weapon pickups without competing with one another.
What are some of your favorite parts of Halo Infinite’s Multiplayer? Anything that’s caught you off guard, personally?
Tom French: I love how the game feels classic and modern at the same time. In a way it’s the fantasy of what you remember playing back in the day. You pick up the controller and the gameplay feels like getting to know an old friend again; they’ve changed and grown but the core of who they are is still there. The gameplay is very much indexing on classic Halo tropes of fair starts and map control, but with new twists and enhancements to make it feel more modern. You can Scan to find weapon locations, you can Mark enemies, weapons, etc., for teammates, and the world of the Player Spartan feels more cohesive in the larger Halo universe.
Andrew Witts: I have a lot of favorite things in Halo MP! I think what I’m most happy with is how everything feels authentically Halo. We spent a lot of time trying to really hone our features to meet player expectations not just in terms of their output gameplay-wise but also fantasy-wise. Everything must own up to the razor of “Is this Halo enough?” Using this razor helped us not only differentiate what makes Halo MP different from other free to play games but also own up to what our existing player-base expects from us.
David Ellis: I would regret it if I didn’t take this opportunity to give a shout out to the team responsible for bringing our vehicles to life in Halo Infinite. Nothing is more quintessentially Halo to me, than battling across of map when a buddy skids to a stop alongside and honks their horn for you to jump into their Warthog. There’s no way to predict the outcome in most Halo skirmishes, but if you’re in a Warthog there’s a very good chance cheers and/or laughter will ensue.
Patrick Wren: I love how we built our systems so we can really fine-tune and expand each experience. We can have a very tightly tuned competitive experience and have a much more dynamic experience in BTB. It makes me excited for the future and what the community does with these systems in Custom Games.
A Spartan goes into battle with the MA40 in Live Fire, a map for Halo Infinite. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Alex Bean: I’m surprised how good it feels to move and shoot in the game. The Sandbox Team made some great enhancements to how smooth and responsive the controls feel while preserving a Halo feel. And the weapons are a ton of fun – all my favorites are brand new for Infinite. Getting a “Perfect” with the VK78 Commando or nailing the “one, two, DEAD” firing cadence of the Mangler is immensely satisfying.
Thank you so much to the Multiplayer Team for taking some time to sit with us and talk through everything from design pillars, to what you enjoyed most from the Tech Preview! If you’re reading all of this and wish you could get in on the fun – worry not, it’s not too late! Sign-up to be a Halo Insider today, get your profile fully filled out, and if you’re on PC make sure you’ve got your DxDiag uploaded.
Up next, we get to hang out with Sara a bit more – along with a few more of her teammates over on the Bots Team, who recently had their hard work go head-to-head with Halo Insiders over the course of the Tech Preview weekend.